Relative clauses

Relative clauses (かんけいせつ) are used to modify nouns similar to adjectives, but can contain a lot more information.

Prerequisite lessons

We already learned how to modify nouns with adjectives, but there is also a way to modify a noun with more information than an adjective can convey. In Japanese, it is possible modify a noun with an arbitrary clause, so there's no limit to how complex we can make it, but there are a few rules we need to follow.

Verbs in dictionary form

Let's first look at the simple case of using a verb (which is in itself a valid clause) to modify a noun. First, let's look at a sentence we're already familiar with:


I will ride the train.

This simply conveys that someone will ride the train, but we can modify the noun with the verb (which becomes a relative clause) instead, to get a single modified noun:


The train I will ride

We can modify any noun with a verb by simply prepending the verb in the dictionary form to the noun.

  • verb (dictionary form) + noun

The modified noun can now be used in more complex sentences just like any other noun.

relative clause

The train I will ride is crowded.

Conjugated verbs

Modifying clauses are not limited to verbs in the dictionary form, but also work for the past form, the negative form and the past negative form. They can be used the same way, by prepending them to the noun:

  • verb (past form) + noun
  • verb (negative form) + noun
  • verb (past negative form) + noun



The train I won't ride



The train I rode



The train I didn't ride

Using any polite form is incorrect, the only valid way is to use the neutral form. We can make the sentence polite by modifying the verb in the modified clause (we'll discuss this in a future lesson).




Here are some more examples:

  • わたし__ほん__ひと_ - I'm a person that often reads books

Complex clauses

Rather than just using a verb, we can also use a clause. Let's look at an example clause:


to come from Tokyo

We can use the entire clause to modify noun by prefixing it just as with simple clauses (just verbs) before.


relative clause

The person that came from Tokyo is over there.

Clauses ending with state of being

We can also use clauses ending with the state of being (_) for modifying nouns, but only the negative form (), past form (___) and past negative form () can be used.




I saw a person who isn't a student.

The important thing to remember is that sentences ending with the dictionary form (_) cannot be used to modify a noun. There is a different way to express the positive present that we'll discuss in a future lesson.




Here are the other 2 forms for reference:

  • past form: がくせい___ひと __
  • past negative form: がくせいひと __

Let's look at some more examples to drive the point home:

  • せんせい___おんな _ごと____ - The woman who was a teacher quit her job.